'A Double-Edged Sword': The Impacts of Social Media on Mental Health in the First Months of Lockdown


By Gabriela da Silva Xavier posted 10 May, 2021 16:10

The following Blog was written by students studying for a degree in Liberal Arts and Natural Sciences at the University of Birmingham, who conducted a project investigating the impacts of social media on mental health in the first months of lockdown.  The Blog summarises the findings of their investigation.  Please follow this link to read their full report.

In March of 2020, the first lockdown began, as a direct result of the coronavirus pandemic. Unable to interact with others in person, many people turned to their devices, with reliance on social media increasing significantly over the first few months. We wanted to look into how this uptick in time spent on social media had affected mental health, which is an issue that many young people have personal experience with. Our report took a multidisciplinary approach, exploring how different aspects and uses of social media impacted the mental health of its users, and gaining insight from interviews with Birmingham-based influencer Michelle Cheung and actor and writer Troy Chessman. Through our research, we found that social media aided mental health in lockdown in many ways, such as helping people maintain contact with loved ones, engage in artistic pursuits with therapeutic benefits, and discover new ways to keep fit, healthy and active. However, it also had several detrimental impacts on mental health, such as causing people to develop addictive behaviours, spreading misinformation, and encouraging and enabling fixation on negative content through doomscrolling and “depression loops”. We determined that, to maximise the mental health benefits of social media, it would be important to limit endless scrolling, prevent misinformation, encourage the formation of healthy habits, and provide support to vulnerable users. 

Following the findings of our research report, we created the Point Of You social media campaign to promote positive engagement with social media. On our Instagram page @pointofyou21, we provide positive content, activities and resources to help people develop healthier habits in their use of social media. With backing from Forward Thinking Birmingham, a local mental health charity, we have been posting inspirational stories, creating informative posts, and suggesting regular challenges to encourage beneficial social media use. Considering how many people are affected by mental health problems, and how widely used social media is nowadays, both of which were amplified by lockdown, working to counteract its negative impacts is of tantamount importance.